Animated Map of Coup Attempts Worldwide, 1946-2013

I’m in the throes of updating my data files to prepare for 2014 forecasts of various forms of political change, including coups d’etat. For the past couple of years, I’ve used the coup event list Monty Marshall produces (here) as my primary source on this topic, and I’ve informally cross-referenced Monty’s accounting with the list produced by Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne (here).

This year, I decided to quit trying to pick a favorite or adjudicate between the two and just go ahead and mash them up. The two projects use slightly different definitions, but both are basically looking for the same thing: some faction of political insiders (including but not limited to military leaders) seizes executive power at the national level by unconstitutional means that include the use or threat of force.

After stretching the two data sets into country-year format and merging the results, I created separate indicators for successful and failed coups that are scored 1 if either source reports an event of that type and 0 otherwise. For example, Marshall’s data set doesn’t see the removal of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011 as a coup, but Powell and Thyne’s does, so in my mashed-up version, Egypt gets a 1 for 2011 on the indicator for any successful coups.* The Marshall data set starts in 1946, but Powell and Thyne don’t start until 1950, so my observations for 1946-1949 are based solely on the former. Powell and Thyne update their file on the go, however, whereas Marshall only updates once a year. This means that Powell and Thyne already have most of 2013 covered, so my observations for this year so far are based solely on their reckoning.

The bar plot below shows what the data from the combined version look like over time. The trend is basically the same one we’d see from either of the constituent sources. The frequency of coup attempts grew noticeably in the 1960s and 1970s; continued apace through the 1980s and 1990s, but with fewer successes; and then fell sharply in the past two decades.


We can see those time trends and the geographic distribution of these events in the GIF below (you may need to click on it to get it to play). As the maps show, coup events were pretty well scattered across the world in the 1960s and 1970s, but in the past 20 years, they’ve mostly struck in Africa and Asia.


A .csv with the mashed-up data is on Google Drive (here), and you can find the R script I used to make these plots on Github (here).

Update: For a new-and-improved version that uses daily data and is interactive, see this follow-up post.

* This sentence corrects an error I made in the original version of this post. In that version, I stated that Marshall did not consider the 3 July 2013 events in Egypt to include a coup. That was incorrect, and I apologize to him for my error.

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  2. Grant

     /  November 22, 2013

    Fascinating. From this it looks like the successful coups hit their peak in the 1960s.

    Could you explain Marshall’s reasoning in not calling Morsi’s removal from power a coup?

    • I wish I could understand Monty’s reasoning on Egypt in 2013 and 2011—he doesn’t see a coup in either year—but I can’t. In fact, my own bewilderment about those two coding decisions is no small part of what motivated me to create the melded version I’m now planning to use in this year’s modeling.

    • I was mistaken about Monty’s view of the 2013 coup in Egypt and have corrected that in the post.

  3. Dani K. Nedal

     /  March 9, 2014

    Couple of things on the data:

    Paraguay – The removal of Lugo in 2012 was most definitely a parliamentary coup. The charges were trumped up and the procedure, though mostly in keeping with the *letter* of the law, was rushed and manipulated to deny him due process.

    Brazil – No successful coup in 1955, only half-baked attempts.
    Another failed coup attempt in 1961 to prevent Janio Quadros from taking office. Later that year, a successful coup led to his resignation. The military and elements in parliament tried and failed to keep his vice-president, João Goulart from succeeding him, but did, however, replace the presidential system with a parliamentary system reducing his powers dramatically. That’s 3 coups right there, 1 failed, 1 succeeded and 1 partially succeeded.
    No failed coup in 1963, only rumors of a coup in forming that only took place in 1964.

    • Dani K. Nedal

       /  March 9, 2014

      ERRATUM: Upon second-thought I guess you can call the 1955 episode a successful coup, but then you’d have to add 1954 as a partially successful one.

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